Introducing My Debut Novel: MURRAY OUT OF WATER
I have a middle grade novel-in-verse out from Harper Collins/Quill Tree Books in Summer 2024! This is a sentence I still can't believe is real!
If you had told me when I first started querying way back in 2016 that my debut novel would be 1) a middle grade, 2) a novel-in-verse and 3) about two tweens with magic preparing for a youth roller drag show, I would have probably just combusted.
Combusted into tears. Combusted into laughter. Probably a mix of both if I’m being completely honest.
Last week, I announced to the world (actually Publishers Weekly did the announcing while I was writing a contract at one of my day jobs) that my debut novel would be Murray Out of Water, out from Harper Collins/Quill Tree Books with an anticipated publishing season of summer 2024.
You can view the page for Murray on my website here and add Murray Out of Water on Goodreads. Pre-order links, an official blurb, and cover are all forthcoming.
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The Road to Murray
My whole publishing journey has been a slow, slow, slow, slow drip of learning, writing, growing, repeat.
I wrote the first draft of the first novel I queried in three months beginning the August before my freshman year of college. I started querying that book as a junior. I sent my first query on June 10, 2016 and received my first rejection three days later on June 13. That was for a sad, slow, poignant contemporary YA project called Talk to Me.
I wrote my second YA book that I would go on to query (but I have written at least nine full manuscripts and this doesn’t include re-writes and revisions lolsob) in the fall of 2017. I got into Author Mentor Match with that book, Ace of Cake, and began to query it in late 2019. By that point, I had graduated from grad school, was beginning internships in theatre and had no idea we were only about six months away from the entire world shutting down.
I actually quit writing completely following a particularly hard agent rejection on December 18, 2019. Three years in, I felt like I had nothing to show for all of my hard work and I was deeply, deeply depressed about it. On Christmas, I remember tearfully handing my little cousin a present of middle grade books, feeling a deep dark pit and void in my gut that I would never be an author, never get to have a moment like this with him and my own books. My dream was done. I would have to figure something else to do with my life.
Yeah, that lasted all of three weeks.
I pulled myself together to finish a draft of my first ever middle grade novel attempt (which is now going to be my second published book, so I can’t offer more details right now sorryyyyy) because I wanted my best friend to read it. Publishing had put me through the wringer, slamming door after door in my face but none of that changed the fact that what I really love is writing and trying to tell the best story I can.
I sent out a few more queries of Ace of Cake and, and after seeing what would end up being one of the last plays I saw period before the shutdown, I broke down and tweeted out my frustrations at querying a novel with ace representation. Somehow, my frustrated Tweet blew up and connected me with my current agent, Jordan Hamessley.
I had my call with Jordan and accepted her offer of representation in February 2020. I had so much hope that this was it, I would finally get my chance…and then the world shut down two weeks later during the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, Murray was born as a character in my mind.
On May 7, I had one line pop into my head (that is now not related to what Murray’s story has become, but evokes the same themes of grief and connection to the ocean in her story for me: “Every night she lathered a piece of the ocean into her hair and wept salty tears for the place she had lost.”
I was down the shore in August 2020 when we ended up weathering through Tropical Storm Isaias. While the winds were hammering our rental condo and we swayed back and forth without power on the same barrier island where Murray lives, I wrote the first piece of Murray’s story and heard her voice in my head for the first time.
Over the next several months, I outlined and brainstormed and tried to draft her story. Initially, I had imagined a prose novel with verse interstitials. Even though I have loved novels-in-verse since I started going to my library’s teen room as a kid (Sonya Sones was one of my earliest inspirations) and even though I studied poetry as an English major in college and love to read it, I wasn’t a poet. I wasn’t good enough to write a whole novel-in-verse. That was something for serious writers, and I was nothing but a flop. I didn’t think I could do it, period.
But I kept getting stuck. Murray’s voice wasn’t working in prose. It felt too blocky, too constrictive for the story my little ocean girl wanted to tell.
I was going through another depressive episode, another dark time where I felt lost and unsure of my future. Theatre was still closed, my grandma was sick and I felt like I was letting my agent and everyone down when my YA wasn’t selling.
Then I went on vacation again in the summer of 2021 and wrote the first draft of Murray in three weeks. I decided to try, just try, putting the whole novel in verse. I sat down to write after watching the sunrise and taking a long walk on the boardwalk. When I came back, I had one character walk into the story who I did not plan for and was not expecting, and the whole novel poured out of me.
Murray was special from the beginning. In all of my writing, it was the first time I let go and let myself be really emotionally vulnerable in something I wrote, telling the story I wanted to tell instead of angling the book to the particular market or what I thought the market was at the time. This isn’t to say that the feelings I wrote about before weren’t real or true to me, but I think there was a bit of a disconnect that in turn made it hard for others to fully connect with my work.
Murray was all heart, all vulnerability right from the beginning. I wrote about the love I have for my own found family and the story is very inspired by my own processing of the damage Superstorm Sandy wrought on the Jersey Shore and surrounding area when I was a senior in high school.
All my friends who had been there for me from the beginning (hi Olivia (who is now my partner), Cody, Abby, and Nicole) tried to tell me that Murray was special. I’m so glad they were right. I’m so proud that Murray is going to be my debut, and I’m so grateful and beyond words to have this opportunity. It’s a book that reflects the type of writer I want to be: someone who is invested in writing complicated stories about queer identity and found family, someone who loves to write about friendship, and someone whose books are intensely personal with a little literary flair.
I’m so excited to be diving into revisions now, with the assistance of my incredibly kind and hardworking editor Alyssa. I want to make sure I use this time and space to really hone in on my craft as a writer, a poet, a human.
Just like every time that I stand in front of wide blue swath of the sea, I am overwhelmed with awe and joy.
I hope you’ll give Murray Out of Water a chance on your shelf and in your heart next summer.
Shoutout to Quill Tree Books!
Whilst waiting to announce my publishing news, I have been reading so many books from the imprint of my first two books as an author. I am amazed and encouraged by the list of diverse, powerful books that Quill Tree has been putting out into the world since their creation at Harper Collins Children’s Books. They are acquiring and supporting books that explore so many diverse aspects of experience and publish some of my favorite books by Black, queer, trans, disabled and neurodivergent voices. I love their books that are unafraid to venture and explore form. And I love how much heart every one of their releases seems to have.
To be published by the same imprints and share the QT love with The Truth Project by Dante Medema, Both Can Be True by Jules Machias, Manatee Summer by Evan Griffith, What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski, No Matter the Distance by Cindy Baldwin and Speak Up! by Rebecca Burgess amongst so many other fantastic authors is a true honor and dream come true. I can’t wait to continue buying, reading and supporting fellow Quill Tree authors and welcome new branches onto our tree of engaging and incredible stories. I want to make all of you proud and respectfully honor this opportunity in every way that I can.
That’s all for now. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me celebrate my moment this week and who has supported my work as a writer for the past seven years. I appreciate all of you so much and can’t wait to continue sharing the next steps in my journey as I can.
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